Spraying the Potatoes was written by Patrick Kavanagh and was voted as one of Ireland’s top 50 favourite poems.
Kavanagh was raised in rural Ireland and knew of the hardship that went with working on farms. He resented the idyllic view that city poets had of rural Ireland.
Spraying the Potatoes
The barrels of blue potato-spray
Stood on a headland in July
Beside an orchard wall where roses
Were young girls hanging from the sky.
The flocks of green potato stalks
Were blossom spread for sudden flight,
The Kerr’s Pinks in frivelled blue,
The Arran Banners wearing white.
And over that potato-field
A lazy veil of woven sun,
Dandelions growing on headlands, showing
Their unloved hearts to everyone.
And I was there with a knapsack sprayer
On the barrel’s edge poised. A wasp was floating
Dead on a sunken briar leaf
Over a copper-poisoned ocean.
The axle-roll of a rut-locked cart
Broke the burnt stick of noon in two.
An old man came through a cornfield
Remembering his youth and some Ruth he knew.
He turned my way. ‘God further the work’.
He echoed an ancient farming prayer.
I thanked him. He eyed the potato drills.
He said: ‘You are bound to have good ones there’.
We talked and our talk was a theme of kings,
A theme for strings. He hunkered down
In the shade of the orchard wall. O roses
The old man dies in the young girl’s frown.
And poet lost to potato-fields,
Remembering the lime and copper smell
Of the spraying barrels he is not lost
Or till blossomed stalks cannot weave a spell.
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